Three Keys to Effective Time Management for CIOs

By Frank Petersmark

What is it about CIOs and time? There never seems to be enough time for all the meetings, to make all the small and big decisions, to deal with the budget and people issues and, oh yes, keep everything tech-related running smoothly. Many CIOs accept this perpetual time deficit as something that comes with the territory, but to do so leads to diminished effectiveness for the CIO. Time is the gold standard for CIOs, and it is of the utmost importance that they manage it properly and making it work to their benefit.

Why is effective time management so important to the success or failure of a CIO? Because time management is key to everything a CIO hopes to accomplish, and its mastery is often the difference between a successful CIO and an unsuccessful one.

It’s easy to tell which CIOs understand time management and which don’t. The IT environment where everything becomes a fire drill or an emergency is a sure sign of ineffective time management on the part of the CIO. On the other hand, an IT environment where the department effectively executes its mission—delivering incremental value to the organization on a consistent and predictable basis, in a consistent and predictable way—is one often led by a CIO has mastered the art of effective time management.

Three key ingredients make up the recipe for effective CIO time management:

1.     Planning and prioritization skills

2.     Communication and expectation-setting skills

3.     Strong direct reports

Planning and Prioritization Skills. It’s an old but true axiom: if something isn’t written down it doesn’t exist. This is especially true for CIOs who get pulled in multiple directions every day by things that are, on a relative scale, not as important as other things, even if it feels like they are important at that moment.

CIOs, by their nature, should be long-term thinkers and planners, and that means they must possess the ability to cut through the everyday haze to see a future state for their organization. However, being able to clearly see the future state is one thing; writing it down and creating the steps required to reach it is quite another thing. The CIO’s plan must appeal to a broad audience—executive, financial and technical—so it has to strike the right balance in order to appeal to all three constituencies. This takes practice and experience, but it is vital to a CIO’s time management efforts.

Once the plan is established, a balanced set of execution priorities must be set that links the plan to the organization’s strategic and operational priorities. Doing this creates the IT resource and execution agenda over the life of the plan and, as such, becomes a vital year-over-year resource for the CIO when negotiating budgets—and for fending off initiatives that are not a core part of the plan.

Done right, this plan becomes the North Star for your IT activities.   

Communication and Expectation-Setting Skills. Once the plan exists, it needs to be continually communicated and socialized at various levels of the organization. This involves more than a one-time presentation to the board of directors (although that presentation is an important part of the plan). Rather, the plan—along with its benefits, schedule and milestones—becomes part of an ongoing dialogue the CIO has with the organization.

The plan is both a carrot and a stick, and the CIO must be able to deftly wield both tools, depending upon the circumstance and the audience. For example, when other executives try to start initiatives that are not core to the execution of the agreed-upon IT agenda, the CIO should bring the stick out and demonstrate what is more important to the organization (i.e., the projects that their IT resources are currently committed to, not this new diversion).

Conversely, the CIO should also use the carrot when necessary, such as when executive peers need to be reminded of the value of completing the initiatives that comprise the current business and IT agenda. (Of course, unplanned issues will arise and they will need to be addressed by IT, but the key is to keep those issues to as few as possible and to time-box the amount of time and resources required to address them.) This strategy requires continuous and realistic expectation-setting by the CIO to all of the stakeholders, so that everyone has a clear idea of what will be done and, as importantly, what will not be done.

Strong Direct Reports. Finally, nothing contributes more to the long-term time management effectiveness of the CIO as having competent and capable direct reports. Strong direct reports should be time-enablers for the CIO, offloading some or most of the day-to-day business of the IT division. They also become the crucial link between the most important IT satisfaction-influencers in the company—the mid-level business area managers—providing a constant IT performance and execution feedback loop to the CIO.

Frank Petersmark
Frank Petersmark
Frank Petersmark is the CIO advocate at X by 2, a technology consulting firm in Farmington Hills, MI, that specializes in IT transformation projects for the insurance and healthcare industries. Formerly CIO and vice president of information technology at Amerisure Mutual Insurance Company, Petersmark has more 30 years' experience as an IT professional and executive.

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